CAIRO (AP) — From the day he was imprisoned more than 100 days ago, Egyptian rights lawyer Malek Adly has been locked in solitary confinement with almost no communication with the outside world, sleeping on a bare floor in conditions his lawyers say amount to torture.
Adly has not been formally charged with a crime, but remains incarcerated on a rolling series of administrative detention orders. His supporters say Adly has been targeted by authorities after he essentially insulted President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in a televised interview.
"What is happening in reality is an attempt to compel him to take his own life," said friend and fellow rights lawyer Tarek Khater. "This is psychological torture."
On Thursday, a court ordered Adly's release, ruling on an appeal by his lawyers over his detention. But prosecutors immediately appealed the ruling. He remains in custody until the court makes a final decision, expected Saturday. One of Adly's lawyers, Mahmoud Belal, said the prosecutors' appeal of an appeal decision "twists the arm of justice" and shows how determined they are to keep him jailed.
The 35-year-old Adly was among a group of lawyers who raised a court case against el-Sissi's decision in April to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The lawyers argued that the islands were historically Egypt's, while the government says it determined they had always been Saudi territory that was only temporarily placed under Egyptian protection.
About two months after Adly was imprisoned, an Egyptian court backed his legal suit with a June 21 ruling ordering the island transfer canceled. The government has appealed.
According to the state investigators, Adly is suspected of participating in meetings with Islamists to overthrow the regime and spread false information that the islands were essentially sold off in exchange for Saudi financial support.
The decision to hand over the islands sparked a wave of protests that were met with hundreds of arrests. El-Sissi has publicly shown a high sensitivity over the issue, repeatedly saying that all discussion of the topic must stop. In April, Adly appeared on a TV talk show with documents he said showed Egypt's sovereignty and said, "The person who gives up an inch of Egyptian soil is a traitor" — a comment seen as an implicit insult of el-Sissi.
Khater said he believes that media appearance made Adly a target of authorities. "From that night, in my opinion, a decision has been taken to plot something against him," he said.
Supporters call his detention part of ongoing government efforts to suppress dissent. All unauthorized demonstrations have been criminalized, leading to mass arrests of protesters; a string of politicians, journalists, and human rights activists have been banned from travel; TV talk shows challenging the government line have been taken off the air.
The government has argued that measures like the protest ban are needed to bring stability to a country shaken by turmoil since 2011.
Adly was arrested on May 5, when security forces stormed his home.
He has been in solitary confinement ever since. Every 15 days, he is led out in a prison truck to prosecutors who renew his detention for another 15 days.
In the meantime, Adly has remained in a 2 by 3-meter cell in Torah prison, an overcrowded facility on Cairo's southern edge.
During an appearance before prosecutors in July, Adly pleaded for his conditions to be improved, said Khater, who attended the session.
"I don't want to be released but only to have a proper prisoner treatment, to have the right to breathe, an hour to see the sun light and a chance to move my legs," Adly said, according to Khater.
"This was painful to me, seeing that his utmost aspiration is to take a walk," Khater said.
Adly has only been allowed a few family visits, according to his wife, Asmaa Aly, and her requests to bring him a mattress or a thicker blanket have been rejected. Whenever she asked the reasons for his solitary confinement, prison authorities refer to "orders from above," she told the AP.
A security official at the Ministry of Interior's prisons department told the AP that prison administrators generally place inmates in solitary for repeated rules violations or if they are considered dangerous. He said that he did not know the reasons behind Adly's confinement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Similar treatment has been applied to other political detainees. One young activist, Ahmed Douma, an iconic figure from the 2011 uprising, was sentenced to 25 years for his alleged role in anti-government protests later that year. According to his lawyers, Douma has been kept in solitary confinement for the past two years, after being convicted of rioting and assaulting policemen.
Adly has been a longtime champion of civil rights, often representing detainees who died in police custody.
In a letter to his friends from prison, Adly rejoiced over the court ruling rejecting the islands' handover, writing "We know we will pay a heavy price for every word and position against injustice. "